Accelerators are fun, inspiring programs, but what do you actually learn from them? Except for the general knowledge you gain, you still have the task of adapting things to your own Start up. I had this question in mind when joining “Startup Leadership Program” (SLP) a couple of weeks ago and I blog about my experiences there. SLP is not your classic accelerator out there, it’s more of an educational program for entrepreneurs, helping them with their start up. It’s a mini accelerator, and it’s for sure accelerates me!
The question still remains, “What’s in it for ME, my idea?” The answer was in a “speed dating” meeting with mentors and key players in the VC industry, who came to meet the SLP fellows of 2013 in Beijing.
We had to prepare a 30 seconds pitch of our idea, including the biggest challenge we face in bringing our idea to life.
I’ll list the mentors at the end of this post, but 1st let me get to the point – what can you learn from joining a start up accelerator.
After ~8 “speed dating” meetings of about 4 minutes each, I’ve got some major questions in mind, and I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned.
Define the type of relationship and level of commitment between yourself and co-founder(s) – My co-founder and I are a great team. We’ve known each other for more than 15 years and we work well together. We worked on a couple of projects before, so we’ve got quite a lot of experience. Something that was not well defined in the current start up was the level of commitment and effort to be put into the idea.
It might seem pretty obvious for co-founders, especially good friends who know each other well to simply say – “We’ve got a good idea, let’s execute! Go!” But, we each have full time jobs, personal commitments and bills to pay. So discussing your commitment is essential even if you are the best co-founders and friends.
The discussion should include how committed are you to the project? What can you bring right now to the table? Is it enough to make a good execution? My point is: define and talk about expectations. If you haven’t done so, do it now. Get your co-founder(s) together and talk about it.
Working in the same working space – What if you and your co-founder are working together, but not in the same physical space. What if you are in different far away neighborhoods, cities, or even countries? What would you do then? Executing a startup idea is HARD! As one of the mentors told me (don’t remember which of them, sorry…), it’s like pushing a huge ball hard and fast enough so it would start moving of its own accord. When you do it from the same office it’s hard enough, don’t do it from 2 different places.
I’m not saying this is always true. I’ve seen some great examples of people working from different places around the world, like the “Buffer” team. When I met Joel the CEO in Tel-Aviv, he told me that even though they work successfully from different places around the world, they prefer to have the entire team stay together, but as they expand that’s becoming harder and harder.
Now, before you move in to live with your co-founder 24/7, stop and think. Life is not always as we want them to be, and often we have other commitments to consider. So, the important question is – What stage are you at?
If you are still at the mere beginning, busy validating your idea and testing it, you should at least have a set time when you and your co-founder/s are online and can Skype together, achieving quality working time. Talk about future tasks and decide on a mutual schedule to reach your goals.
Your target audience is different than you thought – David from Microsoft Accelerator gave a great insight. My ventures’ target audience are college students. It’s a platform helping them stop procrastinating on their school work. “Well, he said. I would purchase this service for my son and I can make him use it as I’m paying his school tuition”. This is something we never thought about. In our case it raises a lot of additional questions, will students really use (even if their parents make them), something someone is making them to use. But this is not the point, expanding your target audience is always a good thing and something to look into.
Also, Shan Zhu from “Mousse Partners” was actually suggesting that schools pay for the service and not the students. This Service helps the school as much as it helps the students, as more students will finish their school work on time.
Explore additional marketing channels – As mentioned “Go Finish” target audience are college students and as such has a chance to be viral enough among friends. We wanted to use this as the main marketing channel. BUT, what would happen, if the class lecturer would be the one asking the students to use this service? After all it’s very efficient if one person talking to 50+ students would tell them about a service they should use (Which again raises the question about the willingness to use a service someone else tells you you NEED/HAVE to use). Anyway, it’s something to explore. It’s the lecturers’ interest to have all paper work handed in on time.
Don’t trust surveys – Surveys are a great way to validate your idea. They’re good because you get information from a lot of people and can ask specific questions you need an answer for, which makes it pretty accurate. WRONG! Surveys are a great way to get an initial feeling about your idea and the more people you’ve got on the survey the more accurate it is. BUT, surveys are also misleading; people sometimes answer a survey the way they believe they’re EXPECTED to answer; they want to please the person asking the questions. Surveys are a way to validate the idea, and help pivot it, but should be taken with caution. Making people use your product (60% of the students on our survey said they will use it) and even pay for it (30% of the surveyed students said they will pay for it), is much harder. As said, we’re happy with our results as it adds to our confidence in the product, but it’s not something to solely rely on.
Now over to you, what is your experience with accelerators? What have you learned? Please add that in the comments.
Shlomo is the co-founder of Go Finish, a web app helping students be more efficient in their school work and stop procrastinating. Shlomo was active in the start up scene in Tel Aviv and decided to move to Beijing last year and learn about the local market. He has been an entrepreneur for the last 8 year and has experience in marketing, product management and business development. Along with co founding Go Finish Shlomo is managing “Startup Noodle” a website helping fellow entrepreneurs arrive to Asia and initiate their own startups.